After reading Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport, about the heart breaking fate of the daughters of the final Romanov Tsar, I was keen to read more. So when I spotted The Romanovs by Virginia Cowles I snapped it up.
In this book Cowles chronicles the ups, downs, dreams, disasters and extreme personalities of the Romanov dynasty which lasted for just over 300 years in Russia; from 1613 to 1917. Of course the infamous final Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917) and the fateful end for him and his family is in this book, however it is one of the shorter chapters. More time is spent on older characters like Peter the Great (1696-1725) a power hungry, innovative and revenge filled despot. And also the German princess who snatched the thrown from her weak husband Peter III, who went on to be known as Catherine the Great (1762-1796).
What I found most interesting though were the less known characters. Such as the first and rather unwilling Romanov Tsar; Michael (1613-1645). The country was in turmoil after the Rurik dynasty ended so church leaders and land owners came together to choose the 16-year-old Michael who’d previously been living quietly in Ipatiev Abbey (which ironically is not far from Ekaterinberg where the dynasty would so cruelly end). I was also fascinated and a little sad to learn more about Alexander II (1855-1881); known as the Tsar-Liberator. Alexander was a reformer who opened up education, freedom of speech and finally ended the cruel practice of serfdom. Yet he was sadly assassinated for his efforts.
I found this a fascinating and a good overview of this long reigning royal family. I had never read or heard of Virginia Cowles before. I was unlikely to have either because this book was first published in 1971; which I was unaware of when I picked it up. The style and knowledge in the book has aged very well – I wouldn’t have realised this wasn’t a new book. This edition I read is a 2015 republication by Endeavour Press. It has been interesting reading about other book bloggers who have recently been reading Endeavour Press republications too; without realising I was enjoying one myself!
The Romanovs was a fascinating, colourful and educational read for me. It has certainly wetted my appetite for even more books about the Romanovs and Russian history. Great read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Can you recommend any Romanov fiction or non-fiction I could read next?